Little Feat / Leon Russell, Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, NY – 1/15
Photo by Jaime Butler
Making up a show that was cancelled in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction, Little Feat and Leon Russell finally arrived at Port Chester, New York’s Capitol Theatre, in what was an appropriate combo given the theatre’s rich classic rock history. Though Russell was billed as the opening act, the show was closer to a co-billing, with Leon performing a full hour and a half set before Little Feat took the stage. Russell and his classic Tulsa sound – part country, part gospel and part rock and roll – perfectly complimented Little Feat’s blues and boogie.
Despite a successful solo career, Leon Russell is best known as a sideman, having played with everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis to the Rolling Stones. At the Capitol Theatre, he conducted his immensely talented band through both songs of his own and those of his friends, and charmed the crowd with tales of Keith Richards and Gram Parsons. Covers of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall” and the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” were upbeat and rollicking, while “Georgia On My Mind” and his solo hit “A Song For You” found his hoarse, well-worn vocals still effective. As covers of his classic rock friends sat next to takes on gospel standards and lesser known material like Ivory Joe Hunter’s forgotten “You Can’t Stop This Rockin’ and Rollin’,” Russell’s set felt like a history lesson in the roots of rock and roll.
Little Feat then took the stage with a punchy take on “Time Loves A Hero,” before kicking into the jams on “Day Or Night,” which veered into percussion-dominated funk. Though they focused on material from their mid-seventies glory days, Little Feat also threw in a few songs from their first album of new material in quite some time, with lyrics written by Robert Hunter. The new material was mixed – “A Church Falling Down” lagged and “Rag Top Down” felt like a Hunter throwaway that even a romping jam couldn’t quite rescue, but “Rooster Rag,” fueled by a catchy chorus and Fred Tackett’s mandolin, provided a glimpse into the full potential of this Hunter/Little Feat collaboration.
While the heart of the show was older material, as one of the first jambands, Little Feat performed those songs with a loose, fresh approach. “Willin’” breathed with a patient, beautiful mandolin and acoustic guitar duet from Tackett and Paul Barrere before they moved into the first verse, while also sandwiching in breezy sing-alongs on “Don’t Bogart That Joint” and “The Weight.” “Fat Man In The Bathtub” featured the most exploratory jamming of the night, with Bill Payne’s racing piano and Barrere’s jazzy soloing leading the way. After dipping into a tease of the Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias,” they worked their way back to the final verse of “Fat Man in the Bathtub.” They again nodded towards their old friends later in the set, with a searing “Tennessee Jed” in the middle of “Dixie Chicken.”
After an encore break, Little Feat returned for “Let It Roll,” an apt choice for a band that has been rolling along for most of the past forty years, persevering through the deaths of lead singer and guitarist Lowell George and drummer Richie Hayward. The band was dealt another blow recently – guitarist Paul Barrere, who joined Little Feat in 1972, announced that he will be taking a year off the road after the current tour wraps up in order to undergo treatment for Hepatitis C. But that didn’t stop Barrere and Little Feat from rolling along with confidence on this night, and one gets the feeling they’ll be back on the road with a vengeance once he is fully rested and recovered.